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Special forces put down Roumieh riots

High-ranking source says complex under complete control, three ISF members freed
By Van Meguerditchian
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Special forces put down Roumieh riots

ROUMIEH: Security forces stormed Lebanon’s Roumieh prison Tuesday in an attempt to contain renewed riots sparked by protests against the deteriorating living conditions inside the country’s notorious detention facility.

The Internal Security Forces and Lebanese Army special forces have regained complete control of the Roumieh prison complex, a high-ranking security source told The Daily Star.

“Order has finally been restored in all the buildings inside the prison [complex] as many of the rioters surrendered themselves when the joint operation by the ISF and the army started,” said the source.

While caretaker Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud acknowledged the demands of inmates, he said the timing of the riots was suspicious and warned against politicizing the prison uprising.

More than five inmates were injured inside Lebanon’s largest prison complex Tuesday as prisoners renewed riots. Inmates set ablaze one of Roumieh’s courtyards in the morning, as reports of clashes between prisoners from different blocks in the compound emerged in the afternoon.

According to the source, no one was injured during the joint operation, which was significantly delayed following clashes between security forces and relatives of inmates, who staged a sit-in in front of the prison.

“No one was injured apart from the self-inflicted injuries and other injuries resulting from disputes between prisoners,” the source added.

The three ISF members who were being held as hostages by inmates were also freed. Several inmates who had suffered burn injuries were transferred to different hospitals in Beirut.

Shortly before noon Tuesday, dozens of family members of those imprisoned closed the main road leading to Roumieh by burning tires and erecting barricades in order to stop ISF and Lebanese Army members and vehicles from entering the facility.

But members of the Lebanese Army quickly intervened to unblock the main road and promised the protesters that new negotiations between the prisoners and the ISF would take place.

Expressing their anger over deteriorating living conditions and slow-moving judicial proceedings, hundreds of prisoners staged protests Saturday by burning mattresses and bed sheets.

Considered the largest jail in Lebanon, Roumieh prison, built to host around 1,500 prisoners presently houses more than 5,000 inmates.

“My 28-year-old son has been inside his [prison cell] for four years now and there has been no proper trial to charge him of crimes [that he is accused of],” said Zeinab Allam, who made the trip from the Bekaa to join other families in their protest. Samar Kamaleddine, another grieving mother from south Lebanon, told The Daily Star that the behavior of her son, who has been in prison for a year-and-a-half, had worsened rather than improved.

Many people and human rights advocates have repeatedly warned of the excessive availability of drugs at Roumieh prison.

Human rights activist Ali Akil Khalil, who was mediating between prisoners and security forces, read out a statement by the prisoners in which they demanded that a general amnesty be issued and that a one-year prison term be reduced to nine months. “Just like [Free Patriotic Movement leader] Michel Aoun and Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea were granted amnesty … and since many of the verdicts against prisoners had been political … we demand general amnesty for all prisoners,” said the statement.

Earlier Tuesday, Baroud voiced his solidarity with “the rightful demands” of prisoners throughout Lebanon before visiting the Roumieh prison later at night to check on the overall situation there.

Speaking after the meeting of the Central Security Council at the Interior Ministry in Sanayeh, Baroud rejected the portrayal of the ongoing riots in Roumieh as a confrontation between the state and the prisoners. “We are taking our time in addressing [the problem] so that not one drop of blood is shed,” said Baroud.

Baroud also warned against any attempt to politicize the Roumieh violence.

“I don’t want to say that the timing [of the riots] is surprising. I will not say its strange to exploit this issue politically … but I reject the use of prisoners as fuel to deliver any political message.”


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